Immaculee Ilibagiza: Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Genocide

I want to start by sounding like a broken record, “Everyone has to read this book!” I was in Barnes and Noble one Thursday evening and decided to browse the non-fiction section to search for a good read from my favorite African authors. I figured I wouldn’t buy anything because I didn’t have a particular title in mind. I was going to be in the bookstore for a about 2 hours so I picked up two books. Fortunately for me I picked up Left to Tell. I had watched many documentaries and heard the stories from the Rwandan Genocide but nothing prepared me for this one.

A few pages in I decided to sit back, order a beverage from Starbucks because I needed something to help me relax as I had already made up my mind that I would be in the store for a while. It was great to be reading a well written book with a story that sounded authentically African. I had never been to Rwanda but I had already created a vivid picture in my mind. I felt like I was Immaculee born into a family with a lot of love and genuine concern for people.

Two hours later when the store was closing Immaulee had gone to college but things were becoming tense in Rwanda. So I left the store that day but I couldn’t shake the book from my mind. As soon as I got home I took out my Kindle and ordered a copy. It was 2am before I could go to bed but I knew I would not be able to run the errands I had planned the next day until I knew the fate of Immaculee and her family. I had to know that this close knit family had made it during that brutal time. A few hours later I was up and ready to continue. This time Immaculee’s brother was warning them about what he had seen, and the whispers in the village that day on the way home and how he would convince them to leave that night.

For the next four hours I was Immaculee seeing the people gather outside their home, then leaving to go to Pastor Murinzi’s house, coming face to face with Buhoro the tribalist teacher and encountering her friend Janet in whom she could find no comfort. But the most heart wrenching experience was reading through the 90 days of her ordeal. Hearing them call her name and knowing that the people who had killed her entire family were hunting for her everyday.

The most painful was the loss of her brother, Damascene, the one person in her family she could still find some comfort in. As Damascene left Pastor Murinzi’s house, one could not help the feelings of wanting to be the Director of the movie and choosing to keep him alive for her sake. Yet remembering that this was not a movie, it was real and it was Immaculee’s story. As a reader you become helpless and then angry, vengeful and the roller coaster of emotions continues.

You are immersed in Immaculee experience as she builds her faith even as she watches herself waste away physically but remaining strong mentally. And then those heart stopping incidents when she can hear the Hutu extremists and knows that life and death are separated by one wall. One can feel the presence of evil even while reading her story yet she continues to build her faith and devotion and release herself to forgive. Even when things seemed to be getting better, it seems there was always someone trying willing to find and kill more Tutsis. I remembered watching the news when I was in elementary school and knowing that there was no way the media would have been able to capture the stories of victims who could have been easily forgotten.

The most remarkable part of this book was how she went back to her village and encountered members of the Interhamwe and people from her villlage like Felicien who had murdered her family and friends and was still able to forgive. This book captures the Rwandan genocide from the frontlines and will every reader appreciate the power of forgiveness. Above all it was a great lesson in history that traces the anger and resentment built into colonial systems that divided in order to conquer. Although one cannot blame any one person for the events of 1994 we are grateful that Africans can write their own history to help us understand ourselves more.